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Feature story: The big picture

Thriving at age 77, the Palo Alto Camera Club holds one of its largest curated exhibitions

It's fortunate that Bill Jackson's photo "Alone" was chosen for a new exhibition. His wife didn't really want it in the house.

Jackson admits the picture is a tad macabre. It depicts a doll's head with piercing blue eyes, lying grimy and alone on a forest floor. But there was something about the scene that he couldn't stop looking at.

Jackson met the head during an overcast journey on Highway 92, heading toward the coast.

"I veered into the forest to take some fog pictures ... I came upon this old abandoned homeless camp, a small one," he said. "In a clearing I found a doll's head. ... Those blue plastic eyes were just like beacons."

"It was a creepy feeling," Jackson added. "The forest was really, really quiet, and the thick fog. And then my mind started to work. Who were the people living here? How long ago? And what happened to them?"

"Alone" is one of 34 prints in a new juried, varied show of work by members of the Palo Alto Camera Club. Displayed at Palo Alto's Pacific Art League, the photos may encourage visitors to ask questions of their own: Why does that iceberg look like a golf ball? Did that rodeo cowboy break his arm when he fell on it? How did the photographer get those birds to fly in such a nice formation?

"I try to create a story with as many questions as answers. When someone looks at an image, they bring everything that they are to that point," Jackson said.

Jackson and many of the other members of the camera club credit the group for much of their artistic growth. The organization, founded in 1935, has an emphasis on mentoring and critique groups, encouraging members to learn from each other. The club also brings in speakers, holds image competitions and plans photography field trips.

Member Laurie Naiman says the club has grown noticeably in recent years. When he joined around 1991, there were about 30 members. Now there are more than 100, nearly all "serious amateurs," he said. He credits the club's "early adoption of the website," in 2001, for attracting members in Palo Alto and beyond. Naiman is now webmaster, updating event listings, adding photography tips, and putting up kudos for club members who win honors or get accepted into exhibitions.

"I get a lot of satisfaction out of sharing what I've learned," he said.

Naiman, 79, has been shooting photos since he was about 13. By 15, he had a darkroom in his Toronto basement. He brought out the camera from time to time while he was in medical school, but didn't photograph that seriously during his career as a pediatric hematologist -- until he joined the camera club.

"I wanted a little more objective critique of my work, and I also wanted to see what other photographers were doing, to learn," he said. "I grew to feel more self-confident about my work."

Naiman started shooting film, and then digital photography "opened up a whole new world." He had always loved computers, and found that Photoshop helped him improve contrast, enhance colors and crop unwanted areas. Nearly all of the club photographers work digitally, he said.

"Helping Hand," Naiman's photo in the exhibition, reflects his love of children. Taken on a trip to Israel in 2008, the photo depicts Naiman's son reaching out to assist a young child up the stairs in the old city of Jerusalem. "I was very proud of him," Naiman said.

The photo also won first prize in a photo competition held by the Stanford Blood Center, with the theme of "giving."

The Pacific Art League show is one of the largest curated exhibitions ever put on by the camera club. It was curated by Foothill College photography and digital-imaging professor Kate Jordahl, who is also co-director of PhotoCentral in Hayward. For this show, Jordahl chose 34 images out of the 102 submitted.

"I always referred back to the show's theme, 'A Celebration of Artistic Vision,' as I reviewed the images and chose images that both had joy and a sense of artistic voice," Jordahl said in a press release.

Other images chosen for the show include "Golf Ball Iceberg," a surreal blue-white picture of dimpled bergs in an inky sea. Portola Valley photographer Elaine Heron shot it from a rubber boat during a 2010 trip to Antarctica.

"I am intrigued by icebergs as they are all different ... and are often gone or significantly changed within a day or two. And then there is the bigger issue of global warming, which may make them rare or nonexistent," she said.

After taking the picture, Heron processed it in Photoshop, chiefly to emphasize the ice's unusual texture, she said.

"My photo philosophy is to make images look like I saw and remember them, but not necessarily as the camera 'saw' it," she said. "The human visual system adds local contrast in luminosity and color, but the camera doesn't, so I often add it back. I think this is why people are so often disappointed by their travel photos -- they really did see something different from what the camera recorded."

In "The Making of the Dream," Philippe Cailloux took a photo of the colorful Toontown area in Disneyland, then added a photo of his hand so it looks like his hand is drawing the town. Much shadowing and layering was involved.

Also eye-catching is Ira Greenberg's photo "Hay Rolls, Central New York." Its striking composition has round hay bales balanced by a diamond formation of birds in the sky.

"This image was taken in July 2011 on the shores of Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in central New York. I love the pastoral feeling it evokes, and the sense of life it contains," Greenberg said.

Jackson volunteered to hang the show, and said he greatly enjoyed assembling his cohorts' images. He credits the club with helping him to find his creative voice.

"This, to me, is the strength of this club ... its willingness to mentor and encourage other members to enhance or find their artistic voice, whether they are already accomplished or, like I was just a few years ago, fairly new to photography."

Jackson traces his serious interest in photography back four years, when he retired from the elections business. He had been elections manager for San Mateo County and then a voting-systems consultant. Upon retiring, he made a conscious -- and structured -- decision to pursue many arts, then fell in love with one.

"I was going to do photography for one year, painting for the next year, and poetry the following year," he said. "I never got past photography."

What: "A Celebration of Artistic Vision," a juried show by members of the Palo Alto Camera Club

Where: Pacific Art League, 668 Ramona St., Palo Alto

When: Through June 27. The gallery is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: For more about the Palo Alto Camera Club, go to pacamera.com. The art league can be reached at 650-321-3891 and pacificartleague.org.

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